During the Bible study at Wednesday’s Eucharist, I was delighted when someone looked at me, confused, and asked, “Why are we suddenly back on Good Friday?!” The lectionary does some funny things around this last Sunday of Pentecost, known as Christ the King Sunday. I pushed the question back onto the group, “So why do we read part of the Crucifixion story on Christ the King Sunday?”
The answer, at least in part, is because Jesus is a different kind of a king. Not one who uses his power to oppress others, but to save them. To say that the kingdom of God is radically different from any worldly kingdom. To remind us that to get to the kingdom, the perfect reign of God, we must go through the cross.
Not around it. Not over it or under it. Not by a back road or a back door. We get to the good stuff by surviving the bad stuff, by enduring. This is the Good News—that even in that horrible moment of hanging on the cross, Jesus still holds out hope to the person willing to see it.
And that’s really the crux of the matter:
One thief looks at the situation and despairs. Tells Jesus, “You know, if you were really something special, you’d get us out of this mess.”
The other looks at the situation, sees that for the two of them, this is simply the consequences of bad decisions, but sees—even THERE—that there is hope. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
There are so many amazing things about that sentence I don’t even know where to start. First, he sees the kingship of Jesus, even as they are hanging there on a cross. This guy gets it—he understands that the cross is not a sign of Jesus’ failure. But it is also moving—and kind of heartbreaking—that he is content to just be remembered by Jesus. He can’t even imagine that there will be a place for him in Jesus’ kingdom.
And in reply, Jesus offers hope, even as he hangs there suffering his own agony. “Today—today—you will be with me in paradise.”
In the worst moment of his entire human life, Jesus not only doesn’t lose faith, he offers it to someone else.
That is what a true king looks like. That is what the true kingdom of God looks like.
To finish, I want to read part of the chapter we read in Bible study this week. It speaks to where we are these days. This is from chapter 26 (pp 121-124) of Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking. It is part of an imagined conversation between the reader and Mary Magdalene.
We ask, “Do you think he is starting a new religion?”
She thinks for a moment and whispers, “I think Rabbi Jesus is doing something far more dangerous than starting a new religion. He says he is announcing a new kingdom.”
We continue, “So he is a rebel?”
“His kingdom is not like the regimes of this world that take up daggers, swords, and spears,” Mary says. “He heals the sick, teaches the unschooled, and inspires the downtrodden with hope. So no, I would not say that he is a rebel. Nor would I say that this is a revolution. I would call it an uprising, and uprising of learning and hope.”
We look curious, so she continues: “According to Rabbi Jesus, you cannot point to this land or that region and say, ‘the kingdom of God is located here,’ because it exists in us, among us. It does not come crashing in like an army, he says. It grows slowly, quietly, under the surface, like the roots of a tree, like yeast in dough, like seeds in soil. Our faith waters the seed and makes it grow. Do you see this? When people trust it is true, they act upon it, and it becomes true. Our faith unlocks its potential. Our faith makes it real. You can see why this message is unlike anything people around here have ever heard…”
“Most of my friends…are just trying to survive. Some of them are indeed dreaming of a holy war against Rome and their puppets in Jerusalem. Even little boys are sharpening their knives and talking of war. But I think that is foolish…there must be another way. Another kind of uprising. An uprising of peace. If Rabbi Jesus can lead that kind of uprising, I will join it gladly.”
“You seem to have a lot of faith,” we observe. “Do you ever have doubts?”
She laughs. “Sometimes I think his message is the crazy dream of poets and artists, the fantasy of children at play, or old men who drink too much. But then I ask, what other message could possibly change the world? Perhaps what is truly crazy is what we are doing instead—thinking that a little more hate can conquer hate, a little more war can cure war, a little more pride can overcome pride, a little more revenge can end revenge, a little more gold can cure greed, or a little more division can create cohesion.”
…”You change this”—she points to her head—“and this”—she points to her heart—“and you change all this.” She gestures to indicate the whole world.
We hear in her words a summons, a challenge, a life-changing invitation. Do we dare to step out and follow Jesus, to make the road by walking, to risk everything on an uprising of peace, an uprising of generosity, an uprising of forgiveness, an uprising of love? IF we believe, we will make it real.
Do you dare to join me in this kind of an uprising—one where we refuse to meet hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, division with more division? Do you dare to get together behind the only king who can actually make a difference—even when the path to the kingdom goes through the cross? Will you join me in rising up to stand behind Jesus? Amen.